China’s state-run CCTV and NBA digital rightsholder Tencent have canceled plans to show two upcoming exhibition games in the country that are part of the league’s preseason swing through Asia. The moves comes in retaliation for remarks Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey made last week in support of demonstrators in Hong Kong.
The controversy stemmed from a Morey tweet last week, when he posted “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong” in reference to pro-democracy protesters’ recent clashes with police in that country, a semi-autonomous Chinese territory. The Rockets at the time were heading to Japan to play the Toronto Raptors in a pair of games this week.
The NBA said Tuesday that two games in basketball-mad China featuring the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets (the latter co-owned by Alibaba co-founder Joe Tsai) — one set for Thursday in Shanghai and another for Saturday in Shenzhen — still would be played.
League commissioner Adam Silver, currently in Japan, has in recent days noted the intense fallout after Morey’s tweet — which was immediate and has included China severing promotional ties. According to the Associated Press, those ties include at least one Chinese sporting goods company ending its relationship with the Rockets (Chinese star Yao Ming played for the team, making them famous in the country), and Tencent refusing to show Rockets games going forward.
Yao now runs the Chinese Basketball Association, which has also said it would ax ties to the Houston team.
Silver, who according to the AP said today that he did not expect CCTV to cancel plans to show the Lakers-Nets games, has said he respects Morey’s right to free speech; that also was not received well in China.
“We are strongly dissatisfied and we oppose Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right of free expression,” CCTV said today in a statement announcing its move to cancel its broadcasts. “We believe that any speech that challenges national sovereignty and social stability is not within the scope of freedom of speech.”
Some have called for the NBA to pull out of its trip entirely amid the reaction, and certain tour side events to the games have been scrapped.
CCTV, meanwhile, published a story Tuesday on its English-language website under the headline “Morey owes the Chinese an apology,” noting the “overwhelming criticism in China against Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey over his tweet supporting Hong Kong rioters” and that “the Chinese Basketball Association, CCTV sports channel as well as Chinese sponsors and partners have swiftly suspended or terminated their cooperation” with the Rockets.
It added: “Chinese fans are Chinese citizens in the first place. They won’t place their love of an NBA team above their country.”
Morey posted a couple more tweets Sunday that distanced the NBA and the Rockets from his initial post: